I can think of four reasons the prospects of federal reform are actually better in 2017.One could argue that there was bipartisan talk about criminal justice reform this year precisely because it was an election year, and some Republicans, nervous about running for reelection at a time when Democrats were expected to have their "presidential electorate" turning out to vote, wanted to look as if they cared about an issue that was important to people other than angry whites.
First, it is not an election year. Nothing makes members of Congress squirm like the specter of attack ads portraying them as coddlers of criminals. There is reason to think those Willie Horton-style gotchas have lost some of their potency, but the prospect tends to make members of Congress more risk-averse in even-numbered years....
Second, President Obama will be gone. Some of the resistance to this year’s sentencing bill was a reluctance to give the president a parting victory....Well, yes, Bill, but, um, Donald Trump is replacing him.
Third, at least one of the hard-core Senate opponents of sentencing reform will no longer be there. That would be [Jeff] Sessions, the Republican senator from Alabama. True, as attorney general he will be in a position to encourage a presidential veto. But he will not be joining the obstructionists who this year never let a bill come to a vote at all....Yes, that's right: Sessions won't be in the Senate anymore, but Keller believes a compassionate-on-crime bill he opposed could be signed by the guy who picked him as attorney general.
And then there's my favorite:
And fourth, the Republican leadership will be looking very hard for bipartisan successes to demonstrate that Washington is no longer in a state of ideological paralysis."The Republican leadership will be looking very hard for bipartisan successes"? Stop, you're killing me.
Never mentioned in Keller's op-ed is the real reason for most Republicans' interest in criminal justice reform: It was meant as a delivery system for the only kind of justice reform members of the GOP (and their paymasters) care about: reform of the criminal code to make life easier for rich corporations.
Republicans insist there must be reforms to mens rea, Latin for “guilty mind,” the principle that a person must have some level of criminal intent to be found guilty of a crime....The Koch brothers, in particular, have made mens rea "reform" a priority. Then again, Keller seems to believe the Kochs are sincere about the overall reform effort: Earlier this year, he interviewed Koch vice president Mark Holden on the subject on behalf of the Marshall Project. The interview was published under the title "Is Charles Koch a Closet Liberal?" (Subtitle: "Not hardly. But he’s for rolling back the war on drugs, ending mass incarceration, and letting former convicts vote.") Gawker's Andy Kush wrote:
Democrats, however, strongly object to including that proposal. Their opposition stems in part from the belief that it would create a difficult standard for prosecutors and could make it easier for some who commit white-collar or corporate crimes to avoid prosecution.
Keller challenges [Holden] on some specifics -- such as Koch’s championing of so-called mens rea reforms, which chiefly benefit corporate offenders -- but if you were to read Holden’s statements without any prior context, you might come away with the mistaken impression that the Kochs are primarily known as bleeding hearts.At this point, why would the Kochs bother to pursue a full-spectruim criminal justice reform bill? Why would the Republicans who now control the entire federal government bother? Now it would be easy just to pass a stand-alone mens rea bill tailored to the Kochs' specifications and ditch everything else to do with criminal justice reform.
... much of the Kochs’ reform energy has been focused on protecting those at the top of the two-tier system outlined by Holden, not the bottom. Holden freely admits that Charles Koch became interested in criminal justice after his company was accused of covering up its emissions of benzene, a carcinogen, at a refinery in Texas in the 1990s.
Keller can still dream, I guess, but we don't have to believe him.